CXO

Manager's guide to choosing what to read

A member shares how he decides what to read and his process for deciding what's valuable and what's not. Don't miss our reading checklist to gauge what content you should spend valuable time reading.


Managers will find no shortage of IT-related content to read. There is so much reading material available—both online and in print—that is difficult to decide which publications and sites deserve your attention.

As part of a recent exercise to limit paper waste and minimize e-mail clutter, I began to think very critically about this mass of content that comes my way every day. There simply isn't enough time to read everything. That's when I realized that I needed to manage what I was reading and apply critical thought to the process of how I decided what to read.

Reading inventory
The first step in deciding what to read is to understand what you’re currently reading. Create an inventory of all the materials that you currently receive and read. Your reading inventory should include books, print publications (trade and consumer), Web sites and e-mail (discussion lists, etc.). I know that it’s difficult to inventory all the various items that you get by e-mail (some by subscription to a list, others that have been forwarded to you) but try to add what you can.

Consider the following questions while reviewing your reading list:
  • Is it longer or shorter than you thought it would be?
  • Why do you read each of the publications on the list?
  • Have you "learned" from the specific publications?
  • How do you learn?
  • Do you have the time to go to a training course or is reading part of your training/learning regimen?

Understanding what you may be learning or gaining from your reading is an important factor in determining what you drop or keep on your list. You don’t necessarily have to be learning from what you read, but, if you’re like I am, and have little time to waste, assigning value to it is helpful in deciding what to read.

What has the greatest impact?
After studying your reading inventory, look at the impact of each category:
  • Which of the list items has the greatest impact on your career and on your life?
  • Are you in fact affected by what you read?
  • Do you find yourself mentioning the things that you have read in conversations or in meetings?

There was a time in the Web development and dot-com space that certain publications had become so ubiquitous that new articles became "water cooler" talk and the hot topic in many meetings. What you read can have an impact on your career. It can endear you to like-minded individuals and, at the very least, provide you with a common topic for discussion (and, by omission, lack of reading can also exclude you).

Needs/requirements assessment
Take the time to think about how you learn and how you’d like to advance in your career.
  • Is there a specific language, program, or tool that you’d like to learn? There’s probably a publication out there that will help.
  • Are you in need of a broad range of tech info that will enlighten you and provide tips and tools to help you in your day-to-day activities?

Figure A is a short checklist I created as part of my own reading inventory exercise. The list helps me justify spending the time I spend reading. Two or more checkmarks is a good indicator of a publication that probably makes sense for you to read.
Figure A
Builder.com Reading Checklist
Impact on your career
 
Relevance to your job
 
"Everyone else" is reading it
 
Conversational opportunities with peers
 
Learning new tools
 
Tips that help in day-to-day work
 

Think about what you need to read, what you want to read, and go read it. Use the checklist to keep your reading plan on target.

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